Archive for July, 2008

Bike Valet

Bike Parking at Vancouver Folk Music Festival

Bike Parking at Vancouver Folk Music Festival

As preparations were underway for the Vancouver Folk Music Festival that took place this past weekend in nearby Jericho Beach Park, I wondered at the rows of metal barriers set up at the entrance to the Park on West 4th Avenue.  Were they meant to funnel festival goers through ticket lines?  On the afternoon of the 18th, it all became clear – the barriers were set up for supervised bicycle parking.  How wonderful!  If last year’s travel patterns are indicative of this year’s 10,000 daily festival attendees, 32% will have walked, ridden bikes, or been passengers in automobiles. (Last year, 17% took the bus, and 51% drove.)

Celebration of Light - Canada

Celebration of Light - Canada

Yesterday, I learned of Bike Valet, a secure bicycle parking service being offered free at several festivals and special events in Vancouver this summer by BEST (Better Environmentally Sound Transport).  This year, BEST is providing Bike Valet at a total of six events and festivals in Vancouver, including at two viewing locations for the Celebration of Light, a fireworks competition that takes place in Vancouver every year.

Celebration of Light - Canada

Celebration of Light - Canada

This year’s competitors for the Celebration of Light are Canada, the U.S. and China.  Yesterday, Canada started off with a spectacular display based on the theme:  Attack, with Godzilla featuring prominently in the beginning of the show.

Archaeological Dig Next Door

Archeological Site

Archaeological Site

Two weeks ago, I was wakened by voices that seemed to be coming from just outside my bedroom window.  Startled, and feeling a bit vulnerable, I got up to find a group of about 5-6 people in the front yard of the house next door.  I went out to investigate and the leader of the group came over to verify the boundaries of the property next door. (Our two properties are probably the only two in all of Vancouver that do not have a fence or hedge between our front lawns.) Robin, the leader, wearing a Simon Fraser University T-shirt, explained that he was heading up an archeological dig of the front lawn of the property, and introduced his crew, composed of members of several First Nations.  They had divided the lawn into quadrants and were setting up to take samples from each quadrant.

First Dig

First Dig

The house, which had been in the same family for 100 years, was sold last year to a woman named Dorothy.  Apparently, she wants to tear down the existing house and build something closer to the street, in the location of the existing front yard.  Because this area was inhabited by First Nations people of the Indian Arm – the Squamish and the Musqueam, the City of Vancouver requires an archaeological survey before any building applications are accepted.

Second Site

Second Site

Unfortunately for the new owner, the team, which grew to 9-10 by the end of the first week, found two sites of significance containing stone implements and other evidence of settlement. The team is now working on a report. Then comes the “long process” of negotiations with the First Nations and the City of Vancouver.

Knit 1, Purl 1

Moss Stitch

Moss Stitch

I taught myself to knit in 1981, after graduating from college and while living at home with my parents in Scarsdale until I saved enough money to move into a studio apartment in Brooklyn Heights.  It was that, or watch golf on TV, in the basement, with my parents, after work in the Finance Department of an insurance company on Wall Street.

Knitting Know-How - Pages 163 to 171

Knitting Know-How - Pages 163 to 171

Starting with page 164 of Knitting in Vogue, which gives step-by-step instructions on how to cast on using several methods (I started with the “thumb method” and have never learned another way) to page 171, which completes the various ways of making up the finished pieces, this book started me on my way to five years of knitting obsession.  Every trip to Italy (there was always a stop in either Milan or Rome) entailed a visit to Filatura di Crosa and the purchase of bags of luscious, sophisticated, sometimes designer, yarn.

My first sweater cost me over $240 in 1981 dollars!  My friend Ellen had the exact same experience with her first sweater:  of walking into a yarn store (in my case, in Scarsdale), picking up a beautiful, soft skein of yarn (in my case, a heather colored wool/angora mix), asking the sales woman how many skeins you needed to make a sweater, taking the yarn that you have completely fallen in love with to the cash register, being shocked beyond belief that the yarn cost $200, and paying more than you have ever paid for a sweater by a LOT (in my case, several multiples) because you are too embarrassed to return the yarn and pick something cheaper. Of course, the total bill was more than that because I also bought a pair of knitting needles.  Once I had finished the pieces of the sweater, I had to go back to the store because I didn’t understand how to “block” the pieces and didn’t trust myself to “make up” the sweater.  The sales woman took pity on me and told me she would block it for me (even though they don’t normally do that) and make it up for $40.  I meekly paid that exorbitant amount, again embarrassed to take it back and try and do it myself.

I soon became quite proficient, to the point that the proprietor of a boutique in the new South Street Seaport, asked me to knit custom sweaters for her. Apparently, she couldn’t find anyone who would knit argyle sweaters or vests.  I took the challenge, but quit 4 sweaters (3 argyle) later.  Knitting for someone else had taken all the creativity and pleasure out of knitting.  (My last sweater was an Irish fishermen’s sweater for a man who had a size 50 chest and one arm longer than the other.)

Baby Blanket in Moss (or Seed) Stitch

Baby Blanket in Moss (or Seed) Stitch

All my knitting paraphernalia and three boxes of sweaters, tank tops, vests, and cardigans are now in Vancouver. Inspired by my soon-to-be niece, I opened the big box of needles and yarn and found some fun cotton yarn that I had purchased for $1.98 a skein in 1985 from the New York Yarn Center.  I had 8 (of 16) skeins left, and figured that doubled, I could get a decent-sized baby blanket.

I had to teach myself to cast on all over again (it’s been over 20 years since I’ve picked up knitting needles!).  Luckily, one of the few boxes of books we have unpacked contained Knitting in Vogue. I decided to use a “moss” or “seed” stitch – the stitch I used for my very first ($240) sweater.

Baby Beanie in Garter Stitch

Baby Beanie in Garter Stitch

Seduced by the instant gratification of making itty-bitty things, I bought a (one!) skein of cotton yarn and got two beanies (the first one looked too big) out of it.  Unfortunately, I had to do a lot of math before making the first beanie because the gauge for the yarn I had chosen was different from the one in the pattern I had borrowed from the Vancouver Public Library.  I have no idea if these will fit any babies – how big are their heads anyway?

The Poorest in India Paid Over $220 Million in Bribes in 2007

On 28 June 2008, Transparency International India (TII) and the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) released a corruption study for the year 2007 with a focus on “BPL households”.

The study estimated that Rs. 8,830 million, in all, was paid as bribe by BPL households in the last one year, in availing 11 public services. It is estimated that the poorest households of our country paid Rs. 2,148 million to police as bribe.
From highlights of “TII-CMS India Corruption Study 2007

India has a lot of categories for her people, particularly those in the bottom strata of society. These categories are set up, presumably, to provide certain benefits to the marginalized population. (The controversial reservations system in higher education and government jobs is one example.) There is a National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) that is in place “to safeguard the interest of Backward Classes”. This is the most fungible of the categories, (unlike “Scheduled Castes” (SCs) and “Scheduled Tribes” (STs)) and the NCBC has published guidelines on how to be included in “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) as well as a central list, by state, of the names of the castes, sub-castes, synonyms, and communities that currently make up OBCs.

Cutting across all these classifications is the category “Below Poverty Line” or BPL (most likely composed of OBCs, SCs and STs). The highlights of the TII-CMS study does not define BPL, but in the 1970’s the government of India (GOI) determined that you were poor if your total income fell below the cost of providing 2,400 calories of food per day per rural citizen and 2,100 calories per day per urban citizen. (Dilip D’Souza, writing in India Together, explores what this means in A thin Indian line.) In December 2005, this translated into Rs. 368 (US$ 8.56) per person per month for rural households and Rs. 559 (US$ 13.00) for urban households. That is less than Rs. 13 (US$ 0.29) and Rs. 19 (US$ 0.43) per day, far less than the US$ 1.00 a day used by the World Bank to measure extreme poverty. Mohan Guruswamy and Ronald Joseph Abraham, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, call the official poverty line (currently 26% of the population) the “starvation line” in their report Redefining Poverty: A New Poverty Line for a New India because this amount is just enough to consume calories, without taking into account nutrition, or any other basic needs, such as drinking water, shelter, sanitation, clothing, and access to education and health care.

These are the people who had to pay an estimated Rs. 8,830 million (over US$ 220 million) in bribes last year to get access to basic and “need-based” services, including the very services specifically set up to alleviate their poverty, such as the Public Distribution System and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). (Corruption in the NREGS has been highlighted by the recent murders of two social activists conducting social audits of its implementation in the state of Jharkhand.)

The services and the amount paid in bribes for access to these services, are outlined below, in the order of amount paid. This number is not higher because many people could not pay bribes or did not have “contacts” or influence to get access to services. About a third of the BPL households did not have a “BPL Card” or “ration” card.

Police – Rs. 2,148 million (US$ 53.7 million).

Housing – Rs. 1,566 million (US$ 39.15 million).

Land Records/Registration – Rs. 1.234 million (US$ 30.85 million).

Electricity – Rs. 1,040 million (US$ 26 million).

Hospital – Rs. 870 million (US$ 21.75 million).

Banking – Rs. 831.7 million (US$ 20.8 million).

Public Distribution System – Rs. 458 million (US$ 11.45 million).  The Public Distribution System is a social security measure to distribute subsidized food grains and fuel to BPL households through “ration” shops.

Water supply – Rs. 240 million (US$ 6 million).

Forest – Rs. 240 million (US$ 6 million).  Forest services are primarily used by Scheduled Tribes who live in and around designated National Forests. (When a forest is declared a protected habitat, STs who live in the forest are removed and charged a fee to enter the forest in order to maintain their forest-based livelihood or to gather fuelwood.)

Education (up to Standard XII) – Rs. 120 million (US$ 3 million).

NREGS – Rs. 70 million (US$ 1.75 million). The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme guarantees one able-bodied member of a family 100 days of work at the prevailing agricultural rate or, if fixed by the Government, a minimum rate of Rs. 60 per day.  BPL households have had to pay bribes to register, get a “job card”, get selected, and get paid!

These numbers do not take into account the travel costs and lost wages of visiting an office more than three times and dealing with the absence or non-availability of staff, lengthy procedures and multiple form-filling.

The TII-CMS study recommends a four-pronged drive to reduce corruption:

  1. Simplification of procedures.
  2. Streamlining of information flows with the help of IT tools and e-governance initiatives.
  3. Reorientation of front-end staff to the sensitivities of dealing with the BPL households.
  4. Additional civil society activism.

I’m not holding my breath.  Besides a couple of headline grabbing, simplistic summaries of this report, I haven’t read any reports of outrage.  It’s business as usual.

Happy Canada Day

Canada Day 2008
Canada Day Fireworks off West Vancouver

Lingering smoke from soy honey marinated barbeque

Haze from California fires abet the night as gray overwhelms blue

Glimpses of gold from an illegal fire shine through camouflage of bodies

Identical fireworks over Coal Harbor and West Vancouver from Spanish Banks beach


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